One of these days, I’ll find the time to write up a full appreciation of Charles Schulz and the influential role he had in my imagination throughout childhood. I still revere the entirety of his Peanuts comics run, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is pretty close to a sacred text for me.

In fact, a few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a short broadcast celebrating that Peanuts Christmas special. And I was in good company: Other guests who showed up in the seven-minute tribute to praise the show included Over the Rhine’s Linford Detweiler; animator Don Bluth; Dick Staub (creator of The Kindlings Muse and author of The Culturally Savvy Christian); Robert Short (author of The Gospel According to Peanuts); recording artists CeCe Winans, David Crowder, and Article One; Phil Vischer (VeggieTales animator and author of Me, Myself and Bob); Steven James and David Thomas (authors of Yup. Nope. Maybe and Does This This Dress Make me Look Fat?); Carolyn McCulley (author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?); Beth Maynard (author of Get up off Your Knees); Mark Pinsky ( author of The Gospel According to Disney); and Kelly Monroe Kullberg (editor of Finding God at Harvard). I’m glad to find that program still accessible online so that you can hear it.

I’ve been trying to ignore the fact that Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, and company are coming to a theater near you (in 3D!) It’s so difficult to imagine anybody doing justice to Schulz’s carefully calibrated balancing act between bleak reality and childlike faith, between wacky comedy and philosophical substance. Television has all but ruined The Muppets this year, so that hasn’t helped me fight off my cynicism.

But lo… as The Peanuts Movie opens in theaters, the news seems to be good.

Steven Greydanus delivers the good news at The National Catholic Register:

Against all odds, The Peanuts Movie persuasively returns us to the old neighborhood of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and ABoy Named Charlie Brown.

Most vitally, it feels pretty much the same, thanks to a screenplay by Schulz’s son Craig Schulz, Craig’s son Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano, who all share producer credits with Paul Feig and Michael J. Travers. The writers play it safe, with familiar themes and situations rendered just fresh enough to be worthwhile. Director Steve Martino, who directed the only Dr. Seuss feature film to date that did any justice to its source material, has more to draw on here, with solid results.

But he asks:

Will today’s kids connect with it?

Peter Deburge at Variety is also impressed:

It was no small challenge for the Blue Sky team to adapt the handful of expressions and poses Schulz recycled countless times over the course of his career into what are meant to be fully articulated CG character rigs. … Though actual hand-drawn touches do appear on occasion, from floating red hearts to an elaborate animated daydream sequence, the objective was clearly to find a vibrant, visually interesting homologue for fundamentally flat elements, all the while incorporating (or at least paying homage to) Schulz’s signature wobbly lines.

The cartoon that emerges is not only stunning to behold, but also as comforting as a warm puppy….

Drew McWeeny at HitFix calls it

a gentle, charming movie that seems far less frantic than much of what is created for young audiences these days. Blue Sky, one of the two major producers of CG animated films for Fox, has produced ten feature films now, and while the majority of their efforts have been originals, it was clear from “Horton Hears A Who” that when they adapt someone else’s property, they try to do so from a position of authenticity and respect.

Alan Scherstuhl at Village Voice highlights something that really matters to me:

What’s surprising — even wondrous — is how often Schulz’s precisely crooked line work informs the big-budget gloss. It’s there in the tufts of dust kicked up by Pig-Pen and the lumpish globs of snowflakes. But most importantly it’s in the faces, in the mouths and eyes and Schulzian worry lines, all sketched in with the raw expressiveness of pen on paper. Congratulations to director Steve Martino and his team: When’s the last time a computer-animated feature showcased the power of cartooning?

He goes on to conclude

The title card claims this Peanuts is “by Schulz,” but there are voices here besides his. What matters is that his is honored — and that this is as sincere a pumpkin patch as Hollywood can grow.

Christy Lemire at RogerEbert.com isn’t so impressed:

The Peanuts Movie … is all about playing it safe. It’s all about repackaging and regurgitating what we’ve already seen and what we already know. It takes ideas, images, plot points and even verbatim bits of dialogue from previous “Peanuts” incarnations and projects them onto the big screen for a new generation without breathing much new life into them. It’s disappointing and actually kind of cynical in its unwillingness to try anything even vaguely innovative with these beloved characters.

But Jesse Hassenger at The AV Club reminds us that

…this movie hasn’t been made exclusively for adult nostalgists, and is something of a gift for its newest, youngest potential fans. A bigger-budget Peanuts is still far more idiosyncratic than almost anything they’ll see at a movie theater this year.

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